Step on the Gas and Get in the Limousine

Editor’s Note: I haven’t followed the Oregon baseball team closely enough this year to devote a whole post to their playoff success (they won their four-team regional this weekend), but what’s better than your team handing you opportunities to watch live baseball for free? Yay for a Super Regional.

Baseball note aside, this post is really about the Beatles since that’s pretty much all I think about these days. (Though I have devoted a little time in the last week to defending my Honors College thesis, which, after a few revisions are made in the next few days, will pass with honors!)

Since we talked about it in class Thursday, I’ve wanted to write about Abbey Road – specifically, the album’s 16-minute ending medley. Though I’d now consider Sgt. Pepper my favorite album, the Abbey Road medley is probably my favorite “chunk” of Beatles music. (Some people have favorite songs, I have favorite chunks. Reading it back, that sounds pretty gross.) Before I launch into exactly why I love it so much, hear its brilliance for yourself:

“Changed perspective” seems to be the theme of my experience in Beatles class. “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the medley’s opening track, has long been a favorite jam of mine, but more for the EPIC guitar section (2:09-2:28) than anything else. Paul McCartney wrote the song as everything in the Beatles’ world was going to pieces (the “you” refers to Allen Klein, their manager at the time, whom McCartney distrusted). To give you a sense for how depressing the time was, Ian MacDonald, author of Revolution in the Head, says this: “To anyone who loves the Beatles, the bittersweet nostalgia of this music is hard to hear without a tear in the eye.” I’m not crying over this music, but the joyful innocence was gone once I understood its context.

That aside, this song contains one of my favorite Beatles lyrics: “One sweet dream/pick up the bags and get in the limousine/soon we’ll be away from here/step on the gas and wipe that tear away.” I have no idea what these words really meant to Paul, but to me, they’re a symbol of freedom: escaping a dreary situation by getting in a fast car and riding off into the sunset, toward your dream.

I don’t want to ruin the medley by picking apart every song, but I will say I’m partial to Paul’s contributions. “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” (all John’s songs) are alright, but “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” (Paul) is another favorite, especially because I now know there actually was a girl who came through the bathroom window of Paul’s house and stole a picture of his father.

MacDonald calls “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” the “heart of the medley.” I remember the latter tune being a favorite when I was younger, before I understood its place in the medley, and I still love it today for the way it incorporates sections of “You Never Give Me Your Money” while featuring all four Beatles in the chorus vocal.

Writing about “The End” depresses me. Its final line is arguably the Beatles’ most famous, but what I really love is the opener:  “Oh yeah/alright/are you gonna be in my dreams tonight? Paul’s rock n’ roll voice gets me every time.

Of course, “Her Majesty” was tacked on as a hidden track so it’s technically the end of the album, but man – what a way to go out. I almost feel guilty for analyzing the medley as much as I just did. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and listen to that 16 minutes of musical brilliance.

While nothing can really top that, I had to toss in a few other highlights from the past two weeks (and no, this was not a conscious attempt at writing the longest blog post in history):

Highlight 1: We Have a Crush on Paul McCartney c. 1967

My friend Kelly (also in the class) and I have come to terms with the fact that, to meet our biggest celebrity crush, we’d need a time machine. Any out-of-class conversation devolves into gushing about Paul’s status as the handsomest and most important of the Beatles. (Why am I admitting this?) Anyway, we just can’t get over this video of “Hello Goodbye” from 1967 (the Beatles recorded it for the Ed Sullivan Show in lieu of performing live). Watch and see how Paul is obviously the most endearing.

We also think Paul is the highlight here (His meta-reference to “Fixing a Hole”? Adorable!):

Highlight 2: The White Album

I was disappointed we didn’t spend more time on this one in lecture, but in listening to the album on my own, I found two songs I always knew existed but never really listened to: “Martha My Dear” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” I now count both among my all-time favorites.

Paul is the only Beatle performing on “Martha My Dear”; since the band members worked separately on much of the White Album material, Paul recorded this in a day with the help of session musicians. No one considers it a standout in the Beatles’ catalog, but I think it’s beautiful (and for whatever reason, I envision it as theme music to a Mary Tyler Moore Show-esque sitcom).

Opposite the simplicity of “Martha My Dear” is “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” a Lennon song. It sounds like three songs in one, and I really love Lennon belting the title lyric in his best ’50s do-op impression (around 1:38).

Highlight 3 – The Rooftop Concert

The Beatles’ rooftop concert is an iconic image for any music fan, but I never understood the circumstances under which it was played. On January 30, 1969, during the Let It Be recording sessions, they decided to play an impromptu concert on the roof of Apple Records’ building, without announcement (or the proper permits). Police shut them down after a few songs, but what a set. This footage of the concert (later included in their Let It Be movie) is awesome, but the true brilliance is in the footage of office workers and cops on the street finally catching on to the madness.

Tuesday is our last lecture and we’ll cover the band’s legacy. If gleefully writing 1,000 words about it is any indication, I’m not ready for that class to end! If you have a favorite moment/song/video from the Beatles’ later years, or would like to divulge your embarrassing Beatle crush details, I am eager to hear.

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Writing my Thesis and Smelling the Sawdust

While this post was intended to be a rundown of the various ways I entertained myself while writing my Honors College thesis over the weekend, I realized my entertainment was entirely Beatles-centric. So, this is post is a rundown of all I learned about the Beatles in the past two weeks and reflects many of the songs I listened to while writing my Honors College thesis.

Side note: I will defend my thesis on Wednesday, May 30 – a day that feels like it’s years away and like it’s coming way too quickly at the same time. More to come later on all I’ve been researching, but I’m essentially covering the development of social media policies for college athletes and how those policies are portrayed in the media. I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re into that kind of stuff, please read this article and revel in the irony of the University of North Carolina’s former athletic director quoted in a story that makes zero mention of Twitter as a platform to be monitoring. Here’s looking at you, Marvin Austin.

Anyway, onto the good stuff. My adoration for the Beatles has skyrocketed to levels I did not know existed when I last posted about the class. Since then, we’ve discussed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour (mostly the former).

For years, I felt really confident saying Rubber Soul was my favorite Beatles album. I don’t even know why, honestly. I probably thought it sounded cool and rebellious, because everyone else said Abbey Road. Then, two years ago, I realized I probably liked Abbey Road more. And a couple weeks ago, I realized I liked Sgt. Pepper more than both of those combined.

In addition to the usual sampling of Anthology clips, we watched this terrific 45-minute documentary devoted solely to the making of Sgt. Pepper. It discusses influences, inspirations and the recording process for most of the songs. My favorite part was toward the beginning, when George Martin plays a bit of Paul’s isolated vocal track for the opening song.

The perfect rock n’ roll voice.

Other interesting tidbits from the documentary:

  • Paul had to give Ringo a pep talk to help him sing the final high note of “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
  • I loved this quote from John Lennon about the Victorian circus theme he wanted to conjure up in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (he’d taken many of the lyrics straight off a circus poster found at a vintage store): “I want to smell the sawdust.” He wanted the song to be so real that it captured an entirely different sense. I don’t think too deeply about how to be more creative, but I think that’s a unique perspective.
  • During the discussion of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Paul mentioned he hadn’t really set out to be a rock n’ roll artist. He pictured himself writing tunes for Sinatra (!), which influenced this homage to songs of the previous generation.

Having loved the Beatles for awhile, I came in with a pretty clear idea of my favorite songs – “In My Life,” “Penny Lane,” “If I Fell,” etc. Never, ever would I have thought “Good Morning Good Morning” would become one of my Top 10 favorites, but it has. (Video not important – just enjoy the song, even though those Lego Beatles are pretty cool.)

On the surface, this is a song about waking up and going through the motions of life. Digging deeper, you learn a) the song was inspired by a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial b) in a way, it’s Lennon’s attack on the mundane-ness of suburban life and c) the animal noises at the end were ordered such that each animal was capable of eating the one whose sound came before it (cat eats bird, dog eats cat, horse eats dog, etc.). I’m not sure why Lennon wanted it that way, but it’s the best fun fact of all time. Learning about this song (and really listening to the words) gave me an appreciation for it that I wouldn’t have come close to earning without this class.

We moved on to Magical Mystery Tour, and while our discussion didn’t drive me to Sgt. Pepper-like levels of obsession with the album, I gained a new appreciation for that period in the Beatles’ history and for a couple of songs they produced.

For whatever reason, “Your Mother Should Know” is one of my favorite Beatles tunes. I love it even more now after seeing the super-awkward dance-down-the-stairs-in-tuxedos video  of the song from the Magical Mystery Tour movie. Laugh with me:

I think George is the worst dancer of the four.

Finally, we listened to a song that wasn’t on the Magical Mystery Tour album but was recorded around the same time, when they were just messing around in the studio.

I’d never heard this song until a few weeks ago, and even though it’s drenched in LSD and a little bit crazy, I think it’s wonderful – from the parody of Jamaican ska music (1:05) to Ringo’s nightclub announcer voice (2:21). They repeat the same two phrases for nearly six minutes, but that’s sort of the point. From innocent songs like “Love Me Do” to this? No one saw that coming.

As always, there’s much more I could say, but there’s also much more of my thesis to be written. If you have any favorites from these two albums (or disagree with my conclusion that George is the worst dancer), please let me know!

Stevie and The Beatles Work it Out

Editor’s Note: This is yet another post inspired by “The Beatles and Their Times,” aka the greatest class in the history of college.

The focus this week was on Rubber Soul and Revolver. Our professor showed a graph charting the relative innovative-ness of each Beatles album, and it showed these two as the point at which they veered away from the traditional love songs with traditional instrumentation and moved into experimental territory. (I have no idea who determined this, as it sounds wildly subjective, but you get the idea.)

Today, we spent a lot of time on the psychedelic “Tomorrow Never Knows,” at the time their most innovative song, but also discussed some of Revolver‘s more conventional tunes. To my delight, this involved talk of how Motown music found its way to the Beatles.

I knew “the sound of young America” had some influence on the Beatles when, sinking into a late-night YouTube black hole, I found this video of George acknowledging Marvin Gaye as one of his favorite musicians (at 1:32).

Hey, George – Marvin Gaye is one of my favorite musicians, too! Let’s be friends.

Anyway, I had no idea “Got to Get You into My Life” (from Revolver) was heavily Motown-influenced. I suppose I could have gathered that from the horn section (Paul McCartney called them “soul trumpets”), but never really thought about it until today. The lyrics are Paul’s, but John Lennon directly acknowledged the music’s Tamla/Motown roots.

The influence ran both ways. We didn’t end up listening to it, but I saw our professor had Stevie Wonder’s version of “We Can Work it Out” in the queue for today; he’ll often play original versions of songs the Beatles covered, or cover versions of their songs (like a relatively unbearable rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” from The Four Tops). Stevie takes a more lighthearted approach to the song, and it’s one of my favorite Motown jams.

It’s probably obvious this post was just an excuse for me to write about Stevie Wonder and the Beatles in the same post, but here’s a question: If you could have any band/artist cover any Beatles song, who and what song would you choose?

What Would You Call that Hairstyle?

Editor’s Note: This is the second of what is still likely to be several posts inspired by my Beatles class.

On Tuesday, I turned some innocent clips of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show into a personal obsession with the evolving definition of “fifteen minutes of fame.” In Thursday’s class, we watched their 1964 movie “A Hard Day’s Night,” which elicited no more profound reaction than “wow, the Beatles have a killer sense of humor.”

Despite ten years of Beatle fandom, I hadn’t seen “A Hard Day’s Night” until today and am embarrassed to admit I didn’t realize the album of the same name was technically a movie soundtrack. The movie is relatively plot-less, but drips with ironic humor. I won’t declare it an all-time favorite, but I definitely enjoyed it and feel that an understanding of their humor adds to my appreciation of their music.

Our professor talked about how the Beatles had vowed not to go the route of Elvis, whose career declined as he took roles in increasingly low-quality films. They brought on Richard Lester as director, who in 1962 directed the similarly sarcastic “It’s Trad, Dad!” (known as “Ring-A-Ding Rhythm” in the United States). Lester’s proven ability to create an irreverent picture, combined with Alun Owen’s sarcastic script, gave the Beatles what they were looking for.

A couple of favorite songs and/or scenes:

George’s performance of “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” which is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen:

Our entire class pretty much lost it after Ringo’s hilarious mock laugh:

And some sarcastic George for the road (at 0:52):

If you’ve seen this film, I’d be interested to hear how (if at all) it changed your perspective on the band, and what scenes or lines you especially enjoyed.

*Poster image found here.

Tough Act to Follow

Editor’s Note: This is the first of at least a few posts inspired by a class I’m taking on the Beatles. More details below.

Fred Kaps. Frank Gorshin. Tessie O’Shea. Wells and the Four Fays.

What do all of these people have in common?

They had the misfortune of performing on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Just like these four people:

This term, I’m taking a class called “The Beatles and Their Times,” and it is the greatest class ever (hyperbolic but truthful). I wish it was four hours long instead of two. I read the textbooks for fun. (The books are here and here. Both are great; the former is indispensable if you’re a Beatles die-hard.)

Today, we watched a few clips from that February 1964 episode; the first of the band’s several Ed Sullivan Show appearances through the years. Of course, it’s always a treat to watch them: Observing each Beatle’s unique stage presence, laughing at the insane reactions of female audience members, realizing halfway through the song that you’re sort of singing out loud and your seat neighbors would probably like you to stop.

We also watched Wells and the Four Fays’ indescribably strange acrobatics routine (it started with a woman in a gorilla-esque costume and ended with a guy and girl doing a hybrid boxing-gymnastics bit, if that gives you an idea). As if that wouldn’t have been ridiculous enough on its own, they performed right after the Beatles’ final song of the night; talk about a tough act to follow.

Thinking that would make an entertaining blog post – hey, look at these poor people who had to perform after the Beatles! – I spent more time than I care to admit searching for their routine online (in class, we watched from a DVD set of the full Ed Sullivan Show episodes on which the Beatles performed). With no luck, I realized that was the story: Performing on the Ed Sullivan Show was a big deal, but they leave behind no evidence for today’s average American to consume.

I wonder what went through their heads when they heard the Beatles would play. Were they mad about being thrown from the limelight? Or were they excited by the potential for a larger audience?

What really gets me, though, is how many people watched. Sixty percent of the nation’s television audience! 60! I don’t see 60% of Americans ever watching the same thing at once these days; people even DVR the Super Bowl. As weird as that Wells and the Four Fays routine was, it would have survived in some small way had it been performed today, likely in the form of a mocking Twitter hashtag and a few YouTube clips.

I feel a little sorry for the acts whose performances so paled in comparison to the Beatles that they only survive as footnotes in stories about the Beatles. Mostly, though (here comes the fangirl!), all this thinking about TV ratings and YouTube just has me appreciating the Fab Four even more. We may have more choices as far as entertainment today, but it’s really about the quantity-or-quality debate. It can be fun to watch everyone get their fifteen seconds fame, but it’s a blast to watch people who got fifteen minutes (and then some) while truly deserving it.